Big Brother Takes Over Security at Super Bowl

AP Sports Writer

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The Super Bowl will look less like a military staging ground, more like a high-tech surveillance area this year.

Gone from the site of the NFL’s biggest game are the armored military trucks and camouflaged soldiers that gave last year’s game such a chilling feel.

In their place is a state-of-the-art, 52-camera surveillance system that allows security guards to keep track of every corner of the Super Bowl stadium in real time.

It’s part of an intensive, less intrusive effort to ensure safety at Sunday’s game between the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“Security will be at the exact same level it was last year,” NFL security expert Milt Ahlerich said.

So far, it’s just not as easy to tell.

Last year, the Super Bowl was played only five months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and securing America’s biggest single-day sporting event was the key story of the week.

From the French Quarter to the Superdome, New Orleans was swarming with national guardsmen in military garb. Armored personnel carriers surrounded the dome.

The federal government designated the game a National Special Security Event, a status normally reserved for presidential and papal visits. The Secret Service coordinated security.

This year, those measures aren’t being taken, mainly because the Office of Homeland Security has so much confidence in local authorities’ ability to handle the game, Ahlerich said.

“We’re doing a lot of the same things. We’re just doing it better, more efficiently,” he said. “That’s why people might not notice it as much.”

San Diego police are spending about $2 million on security. About $400,000 is going toward the camera system that will leave no corner of Qualcomm Stadium unmonitored.

Unlike less-sophisticated camera systems, this one won’t require security personnel to watch the footage from a central command post. Police working the stadium can see shots by hooking monitors into cell phones, meaning they can react to trouble almost immediately.

The cameras have been used at the stadium for weeks in preparation for the Super Bowl. At a San Diego Chargers game last month, they were able to catch a rowdy fan who had been thrown out of the game but tried to sneak back in.

“It’s more cameras, it’s more control of the cameras,” said Bill Guetz, vice president of cVideo Inc., the company that created the system. “It allows a lot of government agencies to look at the same stuff at the same time.”

San Diego Police Capt. Joel Bryden said hardly any military personnel is being used to secure the stadium, an odd twist considering San Diego has one of the nation’s heaviest military presences.

Still, military jets will patrol the skies above the stadium to enforce a no-fly zone that has a 7-mile radius and an 18,000-foot ceiling.

And the California National Guard will protect 29 massive tanks filled with about 700,000 barrels of combustible petroleum products near the stadium.

Even if an attack caused the tanks to explode, fans inside the stadium probably wouldn’t be hurt. Of course, the blast still would be dangerous.

“It would probably be something spectacular to look at and listen to, but it’s not one that would have the greatest impact on human life,” terrorism expert Bruce Gadbois said.

Just like last year, 90 metal detectors will ring the stadium. Ticketholders, who will go through the detectors and be checked for weapons, are being told to arrive early to avoid long lines.

Bryden urged fans to leave cell phones and pagers at home, because checking them at security points will take too much time. He said spectators should not bring anything into the stadium they wouldn’t get past security screeners at the airport.

That would probably include the footlong metal spikes and much of the other leather-and-chain gear many Raiders fans wear to games as part of their elaborate silver-and-black costumes.

“We’ll have to take a look at that,” Bryden said. “If you were asking me for a decision on that right now, I’d say `No.’ But we want to make it clear that we don’t want anything that would keep fans from rooting for their team.”